For 25 years, in 13 countries, in 45 states, for more than 3 million people…Antonio Sacre has told stories.
His tales of growing up bilingually in a Cuban and Irish-American household have inspired children worldwide to gather their own family stories and become storytellers themselves. His stories have been published in award-winning books and audio recordings. His professional developments and keynote addresses have helped educators teach writing to students from prekindergarten through graduate school. Now, his stories are being developed for film and television.
He teaches at the UCLA Lab School, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two children, and two cats. Yes, he's a cat guy.
Join this fascinating conversation that surrounds storytelling—an age-old oral tradition—and how it can be used to improve reading and writing in the classroom.
Our guest, Antonio Sacre, a professional storyteller, children’s book author, and educator, will discuss the simple technique of storytelling and how teachers and specialists can use it to help unlock the writer in every student and get them excited about reading.
Listeners will find this podcast inspiring, captivating, and immediately applicable to classroom instruction. Sacre will discuss the science behind why and how storytelling works to support reading, how to share a good story, and the types of stories that motivate students to want to read and write more.
We hope you’ll join us as our internationally renowned expert leaves you with stories to tell, the capability to share stories more effectively, and keys to teaching them to students across the curriculum.
Tips about making read-a-louds come to life and the research that supports storytelling, with a focus on ELLs
Five secrets to effective storytelling—and how those secrets help build literacy skills in students
How personal storytelling builds empathy and student connection
Ways to augment multicultural literacy
Welcome to EDVIEW360.
It just humanizes us so much. I don't know if you've had this experience. I remember in kindergarten, the first time I saw my teacher at the grocery store, I was like, "Ah, you shop? I can't believe it." So, when you tell stories about your kids or your cat or your dog or your plant, again, this is in transition time. This is in circle time when the kids are coming in, "Oh my goodness, kids. I watered a plant and the plant drooped. I don't know what I'm going to do." Next day, "Oh, the plant is back to life." This becomes an ongoing story and it's just a little tiny way to connect with the kids and I think that they love that.
You just heard from educator, author, and master storyteller Antonio Sacre. Mr. Sacre is our guest today on EDVIEW360.
This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We are so excited to have our listeners back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast for my native New Orleans, LA. Today, we're excited to welcome author, educator, and famed storyteller Anthony Sacre, who teaches at the UCLA Lab School in Los Angeles, which is a laboratory for research and innovation in education where he has been for many years. Antonio is a bilingual Cuban and Irish American author of many books and stories that focus on multicultural family dynamics. He's been telling stories for 25 years in 13 countries in 45 states for over 3 million people. His tales of growing up bilingually in a Cuban and Irish American household have inspired children worldwide to gather their own family stories, become more interested in reading and writing, and become storytellers themselves. His stories have been published in award-winning books and audio recordings. His professional development and keynote addresses have helped educators reveal the joys of literacy to students from prekindergarten through graduate school, and he's used storytelling firsthand to help his students. Well, let's get started. Welcome, Antonio.
Pam, it's so good to be here. Thank you.
There was so much here to share about you. Tell us a bit about yourself and your history and what led you to storytelling and teaching and learning.
It's funny. My dad is from Cuba and I talk to him fairly frequently and he says, "It's amazing you make a living as a storyteller because you are only the 10th best storyteller in our family." So, in some ways I come from storytellers in both sides of my family. My father's family left Cuba in 1959 and they settled in Miami, in Little Havana. And my mom's family, her great-grandparents, left Ireland and they settled in Boston. And through some circumstances, my dad met my mom in Boston. So, I was born in Boston and I grew up speaking Spanish. My dad's side of the family never spoke English, so I had to speak Spanish to communicate with my family. And then of course, my mom's family only spoke English. And in some ways, being not the best storyteller in my family, I listened a lot. I sat around both tables, the big Miami table, on the huge meals that we would have, and then the holidays up in Boston and playing in the snow with all of those people.
And in some ways I was a journaler. I had a little notebook. My mom always gave me blank notebooks for my birthday and I would fill them up. And mostly they were stuff that kids would write about, but a lot of them were about the things my family were saying. Well, when I got older, I wanted to be an actor. And my dad was not very onboard with that. And he said, "You know, you want to get as much education as you can because that's a really difficult field." And I ended up getting a master's in theater at Northwestern University, outside of Chicago. While I was studying to be an actor, I had a very hard course load one semester, and I found a course that had no tests, no papers, nothing to read. It was a storytelling course, which I didn't even know existed.
I knew that my family told stories, but I didn't know about professional storytelling or that it was a thing. And, so, I really, in some ways I took it because I just needed an easy course that I didn't have to work too hard on. And it changed my life because I met my first real storyteller. He's become a mentor and friend. He introduced me to this whole amazing world. His name is Professor Rives Collins. And the final exam after listening to stories all semester was just to tell stories in front of some third-graders nearby. And I did it and I saw the kids react in a way that people in the theater never react. Part of it is because you don't see their faces with the lights on, but also just the joy that they had. It was very exciting. So, it became this sort of parallel career as I was trying to be an actor.
I was telling stories in the schools, and then one of my friends says, "You'll know you found your calling when people start calling." So, schools kept calling to have me come and tell stories in their schools, but not so many theaters were calling to have me as an actor. But my really big break came a couple of years out of grad school when I started telling stories entirely in Spanish for the kids who just came to Chicago from Mexico and Puerto Rico. And as I was telling stories in Spanish, I would introduce some English and then I was telling stories in English for the Spanish learners and mixing in some Spanish. And once I discovered that that sort of superpower of having two languages, the amazement of talking about these cultures that are pretty unique to me, not necessarily unique in the world, but audiences in Chicago wanted to hear about the Cuban family and the Irish family.
They wanted to hear it in English and Spanish. And through that whole long process, eventually it led me to publishing books and performing in Los Angeles, where the lab school heard me tell stories one day and asked if I would come in. So, that's kind of the long answer. I mean, I guess the short answer is I come from a bunch of storytellers, I listen a lot, and I'm bilingual. I guess that's the crib notes version there.
What a story it is, Antonio, from journaling, just starting there and enjoying your family. I love the idea of you know your calling when they start calling. We've heard you talk about literacy, learning, and storytelling as what our ancestors knew. Let's talk about the scientific research that supports storytelling. It's all fun and all, but what does it have to do with the human brain?
It's so interesting. So, when I first started telling stories, I could just tell that the kids were listening so that my scientific research was just me looking, right? And then I began to pay attention, what stories are working, what stories are not working. So, there was a lot of just anecdotal evidence for me in the first 10 years of my career. If I really know the story well before I tell stories, the kids will listen. If I really love the story, the kids will listen. If I speak loudly enough, they'll listen. So, it was Professor Rives Collins who wrote a book that's now been out for some years called The Power of Story: Teaching Through Storytelling. And, so, that was the very first book that I got into. And, then for me, I had been around long enough, it was just the beginning of the Internet.
I just began to just throw search terms into the Internet. So, this morning before getting on the podcast, I just threw in exactly that question: How storytelling helps students learn to read better. And my old computer took 0.5 seconds to come back with, and I had to look at this twice because I'm not such a big math person. There're 3 billion results for that. I don't know exactly why that is, but it was just really, it's amazing. So, the studies that really influenced me was Northwestern University Medicine has this study about coma patients. So, a person who's in a coma, if a family member tells stories to them, they measure this with functional MRIs, they had their brains under these MRIs. Parts of the brain light up when the coma patient was hearing a story. And the people who got stories, they did double-blind studies here, they recovered, some of them recovered more quickly from that.
And that led me down to, there's a whole bunch of stories now, Harvard Business has a bunch of examples there as well. UT Austin, I performed there for many years. I have a professor friend there named Katie Dawson, who also has an amazing book. And they have all kinds of studies there as well. Storytelling improving the ability to summarize and deconstruct. Just the idea, there's something that happens in the brain that only lights up the MRI through storytelling, and the better you know the storyteller, the better. If it's a family member, if it's a teacher who knows his or her class, those kids are getting more out of that. When strangers hear my stories, I hope that they like it. But when you really know somebody, you're really doing something. The last thing I'll say with the study is that I've been following is the mirror neuron.
So, in your brain, when you tell a story, if you're talking about somebody who's feeling really, really sad, the person who's listening is actually feeling that. There's a thing in their brain that is lighting up that doesn't light up when you watch movies. I love movies, I love TV, I love all the Internet stuff that you can do, but you're activating parts of the brain that don't get activated in other ways. You can go down the rabbit hole, which I have over the years. Plenty of books about the number of words that kids hears helps them. I think a lot about how we learn to speak and read and write, you don't give a 2-year-old pen and paper and a book. You speak to a 2-year-old. You speak to your children for years before they can read a book. And I'm now a dad.
I have a 13-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, and I saw that with my own kids, too. So, I'm going to email you a couple of links that you can include in the show notes for sure. But really, teachers can find it on their own. Just Googling that, you're just going to find almost any university, all kinds of publications, just to really understanding the power of story now, even the power of story to sell a product. This is coming up in the business journals that I also sort of check out. So, that's been super interesting and validating in some ways. I mean, again, if I didn't come across the research, I would just still know that it works. It works for my kids, it works in the classes that I tell stories to. It works when I'm with strangers in line at the store. So, that's some of my geeking out on the signs of it.
The power of storytelling, it lights up the brain. It helps to make connections and that is wonderful. So, storytelling supports students. You mentioned how storytelling supports reading. That first experience you had with those third-grade students. Does it support reading in the K–5 world or can it work in all grades? Is it limited? Can it go all the way to high school?
So, this is super interesting. Well, I'm married to a high school English teacher. My wife teaches 11th and 12th grades. And when I first started telling stories, for sure if you have heard of storytelling, which many people have nowadays. But when I started, not as many. You're really thinking about preschool, library time, story time, K–5, really, and junior high, not so much. Once they started getting into the junior highs, though, the teachers were reporting that they couldn't believe how the kids were listening. They didn't think that they would, especially with all the distractions we have nowadays. So, I don't know, there's an old saying, to a hammer, everything is a nail. I really just don't think that there's a spot where storytelling doesn't work. I think back to my high school teachers, I never forget my history teacher teaching me about World War I.
And he told this story about this random guy, "Imagine this guy, his name is Jojo." And he just made up some guy, Jojo, and he talked about Jojo and told me this story of Jojo and what he was wearing and what it felt like and how cold it was in the trenches. And I never forgot that lesson. He was really connecting with me. Again, it goes back to that there was a connection that happens. When you tell a story to your students, you're creating community. You are creating a space where all of us are reacting at the same time. We're all laughing, we're all waiting, we're anticipating, we're scared, whatever kind of story we're telling. And it creates a community. And when you have a community, then it's easier to then go into your lessons. So, teachers already do this, so I'm just thinking, so even my wife. She's going to be, she's teaching 1984, this really dense novel.
And before she teaches the novel, she spends two minutes telling the story of her teacher who taught her the novel and where she found the book and what she felt like and what was happening in the 1980s when 1984 was being taught when she was in high school. And the kids are just amazed listening. And now when they step into the novel, it's easier for them to get engaged. So, I feel like this is sort of separate from everything. It's just like tell a story to get your kids engaged and then now we do this. The teachers of younger grades, when we're going from the rug time back to the desks. "Hey, let me tell you about my crazy Uncle Mike when he got on the bicycle when he was younger." And now that helps the transition. Not screaming at the kids, "Get to your desk, I'm going to count down from 10, 9, 8." No, "Here's a story about Uncle Mike." And then we go to the thing.
So, this is kind of what I'm thinking, and I think that that works in any level. The thing that I do love about it is the community that is created. And then, lastly, and I understand how busy teachers are, when you start to really listen to somebody else's story, you're really now starting to get at the heart of what it is to be human. So often the teachers have so much they've got to get through, but what happens when they can listen to their own students' stories or if they don't have the time to listen to every single story? What happens if we do these pair shares where kids turn and talk? Whenever I work in the classroom, I'll often tell a story about whatever, riding a bicycle for the first time, a long car trip, a boring time with a boring aunt or uncle. And then I'll say, "Has anyone here ever had an accident on a bike?" And 30 hands go up. "Turn to one of your neighbors and tell them that story."
So, now, 30 kids are all talking and they're all getting a chance to tell their story. I'm not getting to hear every one of their stories, but they're all sharing stories together and that's really powerful to have somebody listen to you. So, I think that goes up and down the curriculum for sure.
Right, I tell you, just listening to you, Antonio, my idea of storytelling has definitely expanded. From making a connection for students to building a community with students as a warmup to lessons. We all know about those warmups, right teachers? Transitioning from one place to another, making it a joy, helping us to make those connections. My idea of storytelling, I have to say it again, just listening to you, Antonio, has definitely expanded it.
I'm glad to hear that. People say that storytelling is a folk art. It's not a fine art. I love fine art. I love going to the museum. Many times, I'm looking at a painting and I have no idea how that painter executed that, or a sculpture or a violin player. Some friend of mine let me play a violin and I couldn't make one single note, but we all speak, we all tell stories all the time. "I was late for this reason. Oh wow, this lady cut me off, this man did this, this happened at the store today." It's a thing we all do already. That's what I love about it. And, so, I feel like that's important to me to realize that.
Thank you Antonio. Let's shift a little bit and let's talk about EL learners and using read alouds and how storytelling can help build their literacy skills.
This is so interesting to me because aren't we all EL learners? Aren't I learning vocabulary every single day? I think about just right books in a lot of the classroom levels. You want to find the just right book for a kid, you want to give them some success. And I personally just as not even related to my career at all, I love to read a book where I have to go to the dictionary every few pages to learn a new word. And I'm talking a real dictionary with actual pages where you find your word, you see other words around it. So, that's one thing. But what I would say about EL learners specifically and storytelling, both the story that you might read in a story book or a story you might tell. In many, many of the stories that we all grew up with there is just constant repetition.
So, you think about Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the phrase, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down." It's repeated five or six times in the little pigs' story. Now, will a Spanish-speaking kid just here from Guatemala need to know the phrase, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down?" No, but they're going to hear the word house over and over again in that story. The pigs are building a house, the wolf is going to blow on the house. The pigs run to the next house. They run to house, house, house, house, house. I did, again, thinking about this podcast, a couple of just quick searches. How many times do we need to hear a word before we learn it? And the numbers vary from 15 to 100. So, it depends on the student and the difficulty of the word.
But you tell one story or you read one of these old stories and that kid is hearing vocabulary many, many times. The other thing that happens when you're doing a read aloud or you're telling a story is you are engaging the kids with nonverbal things. Your face is lighting up, you're getting very angry. "I am a tenaciously ferocious wolf." A kid has no idea what tenacious ferocious means, but they're seeing my face crunching up like the wolf. They're seeing me clutch my hands and I'm flexing my muscles. I'm the big bad wolf. And so these sorts of performative things are in the text already. And when you allow an English language learner to see your body and to hear your voice changing, they are getting the meaning without getting the words. So, they're going to laugh when the pigs fool the wolf or they're going to get the joke, or they're going to be scared at the right time.
They may not be able to retell that story to you in English, but they'll be able to tell it back to you in Spanish or whatever languages they're learning. So, the more that we can bring these voices and this repetition into these things that, back to creating community, I think about kids who are learning a sport. When my daughter was learning soccer at age 3, they put her a foot away from the goal and she just basically walked into the ball and she scored a goal. "Yay. I scored a goal." So, you tell a story with all this repetition, it's really rewarding. I listened to a 10-minute story and I understood the whole thing. That's amazing. Now let's go read it. And now I'm seeing the word that I just heard. It's spelled with an H, in Spanish we don't say that.
We never pronounce the word H. That's weird. And, so, now we're learning how to figure that out. So, that's one thing. The other thing that I do when I'm reading stories that have repetition, especially for the younger grades, whether I'm reading them or telling them out loud. I love to just layer in vocabulary. So, the big bad wolf becomes the big nauseating wolf, the big ferocious wolf, the big ridiculously whatever. I just keep adding words into these repetitions and I just keep doing it that way. So, I think that that's what I think about and it's creating that community, feeling safe, feeling like we're all figuring it out and then getting it from the context clues. I'm watching your face, I'm listening to your sounds. I'm listening to...Seeing your body as you're reading the story or telling the story, and it gives them a little bit more success and hopefully some joy to go and try something hard.
The joy is a big thing. We remember things when we have those happy emotions. The nonverbal clues is what you shared, building a vocabulary with repetition. As an educator, I have to tell you, I can see how this is impactful to students. Especially those students who are English language learners. As you said, we're all English language learners. I agree with you on that. We are constantly building our lexicon, adding new words. Thank you, Antonio. I do have another question for you. Does storytelling need to be formal and scripted to engage and motivate reluctant readers? I think I already know the answer to this question, but I'm going to let you expound on that.
Well, the one thing I'm super aware of is how stressed and busy teachers are right now. The short answer is no. But if I believed it to be true, then I'm going to tell a teacher, "OK, now you got to go read these stories. You got to memorize these stories, you have to practice them in the mirror. You got to spend a couple of hours making it amazing." That's just not tenable. I know all these teachers have their own lives out of the classroom and there's so much that they're being called on to do, social emotional learning and they have to watch out for, are these kids being treated well and what's going on? And this kid needs this service and that kid needs that service and my classroom is this and we've all survived the pandemic. So, the short answer is no. And I do feel like the more off the cuff the better.
One of the things I like to do is I like to tell kids stories that they already know. So, if we've already been reading a story, I like to retell the story and just get it wrong. So, it's like the three little pigs, they went into their three little cars. "It's not cars, it's a house." So, I know that they're listening. So, that's one of the things I like to do as well. I feel like the techniques of storytelling, they can come in anywhere. I was just thinking about, this happened to me a couple of months ago. The kids had been studying Goldilocks and the Three Bears that was also in a recent movie that came out and kindergartners were studying animals. And, so, I began to tell the story of Goldilocks and the Three Blanks, Goldilocks and the Three Sloths, Goldilocks and the Three Kangaroos, Goldilocks and the Three Rhinoceroses, whatever.
And, so, how does the rhinoceroses move? How does a sloth move? They're not eating porridge. What is a sloth eating? So, now, I'm taking an old story that everyone knows and it's starting to become a nature lesson or a science lesson. And that was something that happened right off the cuff there as well. The last thing I would say is it just humanizes us so much. I don't know if you've had this experience. I remember in kindergarten the first time I saw my teacher at the grocery store. I was like, "Oh, you shop? I can't believe it." So, when you tell stories about your kids or your cat or your dog or your plant, again, this is in transition time. This is in circle time when the kids are coming in, "Oh my goodness, kids, I watered a plant and the plant drooped. I don't know what I'm going to do."
Next day, "The plant is back to life." This becomes an ongoing story. And it's just a little tiny way to connect with the kids. And I think that they love that. I also love the idea of sharing the struggles we have. "Man, traffic was really hard coming into school today." "Oh my goodness, my dog threw up on the living room rug. Can you believe it?" And now we're talking about what to do. And then the kids can't wait to share with you, "Oh my gosh, my dog did that." Or, "Oh, we were on the bus today and this thing happened." So, it's just an excuse to create this community. My son is in eighth grade and he's like, "Oh, we can get the English teacher off track if we ask her about the fashion from the 1970s."
And it becomes a history lesson. Now, she's talking history and fashion and they think she's off track, but really she's not. So, I want teachers to realize they're already doing it. It's powerful to do. And every time they do it, the kids are going to react. They're going to feel part of this group, part of this community.
Always making connections. That's what I'm hearing. Constantly making connections and preparing a brain for learning, honestly. You learn better when you're in a happy mood. You learn better when you have some information. You are front loading without even realizing it. You think, "Oh, she's just telling a story." But it's more than that. Your brain is getting ready for the work. Let's talk a little bit more about how teachers and reading specialists can use storytelling to get children excited about reading. Can you share some simple actionable, and I know that you can, some simple actionable tips on how to tell stories?
Well, I did write this in the blog post. They can take a look at as well. I'm sure there'll be a link to that as well. The very first thing I would say is just setting up the context, especially the younger the kids are, the more you need to do that. So, I live in Los Angeles. There are many kids who've never seen snow. And at 5 years old before I can tell them a snow story, I have to tell them, set up the context. So, meet your kids where they're at, make sure they understand. Now, if they're 5 years old, you don't want to spend 10 minutes on a scientific exploration of condensation and clouds and whatever, but you definitely want to say whatever it is. But with that being said, there are five things that I do all the time and I just now do it subconsciously.
And I know a lot of teachers already do this because I've seen it in action. So, obviously, I'm going to say them out, but you can see them on, it's my voice, it's my gestures, it's sound effects, it's silence, and it's repetition. So adults, when you hear younger kids especially tell stories, they're like, "And then my dad did this, and then we went here," and they just speak on a monotone. They don't know how to modulate their voices. Well, adults, at the very least, we have our high voice, we have our low voice and we have our speaking voice. Every teacher can do that without even thinking about it. And one of the things I love to do is to bury the voice. So, sometimes my wolf has my really big voice, "I'll huff and puff and blow your house in." But sometimes the wolf is really, "I'm going to huff and puff and blow your house in."
And it's really surprising and fun for the kids. Now, the other thing I do for voice is I use the voices from my family. I don't know if there's a New Orleans accent, but I assume that you could speak in this vocabulary with this accent that is unique to your own people. And so I do that with a Cuban accent. So, sometimes my big bad wolf is a Cuban, "I'll huff, I'll puff, I'll blow your house down, OK?" And sometimes my Uncle Mike, "I'm going to huff and puff and blow your house down, you little scallywags." So, I just steal the voices from my family to populate all of my stories. So, voice is one thing I would encourage teachers to use if they sing, sing every time you can. Sing it. Why not? If you're a singer. The second thing is gesture, your face can be super emotive, but also your body. If you're doing a read aloud and you're holding your book in one hand, you can still use your other hand to, you can make a house with your hands.
You can blow your hands forward for the wind, the kids can join you. They'll actually start joining you without you even asking. And then the wind was blowing left and right. My hand is moving in the air. The kids are all doing that with me. This is back to the science of we are doing the same thing together. So, we're connecting. It's back to connection again. So, my voice, my body using gesture, I steal sound effects from all the cartoons I've ever watched. I'm of a certain age where the cartoons I watched were Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. So, I have a lot of "ahooga, ahooga." So, I'm just throwing these in. So, the big bad wolf, when his tail gets into the pot, I'm like, "ahooga, ahooga." And I'm just stealing sound effects. And kids love it. It's silliness. They love watching us be silly. So, the sound effects are where I get silly. I use silence or a dramatic pause to great effect. And again, I'm just using the big bad wolf as an example because it's the story all of us know. The pig opens the door and looks out.
So, there's a sound effect, there's a moment of silence, there's a sound effect. And that really stretches out that moment and the kids get really excited about that. And the last thing I've already mentioned, which is repetition. If I'm reading a story that doesn't have repetition, I add it in. So, there's a story I tell where these two characters come out simultaneously. There's no way a 5-year-old knows what simultaneously means, but I use that word 10 more times in the story. Simultaneously, they bumped into each other. Simultaneously, they went to tie their shoe. Simultaneously, and I won't even define it until I'm halfway into the story and then I finally tell them what simultaneous means. So, find repetition. Repetition is already built into a lot of the stories. And part of that is because many of these stories come from the ancient oral tradition where there was no writing, that didn't exist.
So, the more you repeated, the more the story could be remembered. The more that you added these memorable sounds and gestures, the more that the story was remembered. And so I just kind of use that and I know that teachers are already doing many of these things. I would encourage teachers, if you're not using your voice to the best of your ability, if you're not stealing the accents from your family or from your region, do it. A Baltimore accent, a Boston accent, a Southern accent. What if the big bad wolf is, "Hey y'all, I'm going to blow whatever it is." This is something they can layer in. And then some teachers are already doing all this, but just do it more. One of my friends told me that if you find something as funny once, it's funny 15 more times. So, I have added gestures over and up.
One of the things I do is I start, not that it's trademark or anything, but I start a story saying, "A long time ago..." And I start to move my hands in front of me and I stretch them out longer and longer. And then this is what I just did, "A long …." And for 5 year olds, I'll do that for as long as I can hold my breath, 45 seconds and they are just howling before I even start the story. So, it's stretching out the story. But I think the last thing I'll say aside from the five tips of what I just told you, is to just really enjoy it. If you're not enjoying the story you're telling or you're reading, you haven't found the right story because there's a million of them out there. So, if you're reading a story and you're not feeling it yourself, without giving you too much homework, find a better story.
Go to your library and ask the librarian, "Hey, I need a perfect story for this time of year. St. Patrick's Day or Valentine's Day or summer or spring." And that's what I've done. Many of my stories I've now told for 20 or 30 years and I'm bored of some of my own stories. So, I'm constantly looking for new stuff myself. And the last thing I'll say is that that has led me to just the old fairy and folk tales. Grimms, Anderson, every culture has them. Spanish stories, Mexican stories, Chinese, African stories, Indians. I'm into Indian stories right now and Native American stories. So, there's so many of them there, but those are the things that I do. Lastly, the magic of YouTube. There's a lot of amazing storytellers out there. You can just watch what they're doing and steal their stuff. We love it when you use these techniques to get kids engaged in the classroom. If you're going to be on the professional circuit, don't steal my stuff, but if you're going to be in the classroom, steal my stuff.
It definitely brings joy. I keep coming back to that word joy because that's what it is. I asked for actionable tips and that's what I got. I'm going to repeat this again. I know that you can go back and rewind, but I have to say them. The voice, the gestures, the sound effects, silence. And that last one, repetition. Some of our kids need eight to 12 repetitions when learning something new. Some 20 to 30, some 80 to 120 repetitions. It depends on their needs. Tomorrow, teachers try it. I think that you can do it. We're not done with you yet, Antonio. I still have a few questions for you.
That sounds good. I'm good.
Think about those kids who struggle to read, especially those with learning challenges. How can storytelling become a useful tool?
So, interesting. Part of it has to do with listening is something that we just do. Think about what happens cognitively when you read/you're looking at these little, tiny symbols. So, I'm sure you have the experience of kids that can actually read what they're seeing, but they have no idea what they're reading. They don't have any comprehension. So, reading is amazing and I want every kid to read, and it's a brain workout that you can get with very few other things. It's calisthenics for the brain. I'm doing it and I'm in my 50s, but I'm doing it so I don't get Alzheimer's when I get older. There's research that says that the more you read, the more that you can delay that, the more your brain is acute. This is fascinating, but I'm also an athlete and my kids are athletes and we just need success.
If my kid is playing soccer and I have a professional goalie in this massive goal, she's never going to kick a goal. She's going to quit. If my son is trying to play basketball and the basket is 10 feet tall, but he's only 3 feet tall, what are we going to do? So, when I was a kid, this didn't exist. But at our local gym, they can lower the basket and they can hang another basket off of the already low basket. So, my 4-year-old son could slam dunk and that was amazing for him to feel that. I feel like telling stories is the slam-dunking on a small rim for our kids. So, you're still getting the brain activity. It's not quite the same brain activity of the reading, but you're still activating those centers of the brain. You're helping the kid with comprehension. So, long before a 5-year-old can read a word, whether they're learning challenged or not, they still need to feel to know what that word means.
They're learning context, they're learning social emotional skills from hearing these stories. And so it takes a village. It also takes 100 different techniques to get a kid to be able to read regardless of where they're at developmentally with whatever brain challenges they have or abilities. And, so, I feel like that's the biggest thing and it's just the thing. I mean, I don't know. I think back to the idea of they're just doing what they have been naturally doing for years before, what 3- or 4-year-old, I mean many, many parents I know have lots of books and lots of reading around, but still. Long before they can actually read, they're hearing and understanding. So, I think that's where it's at for me that I'm thinking about. Also, the other thing, I'll notice that this ties in with writing a little bit, a 5-year-old or whatever, any age, they can speak way more than they can write.
So, if you look at a typical 5-year-old at the beginning of a kindergarten school year, there's just scratches on the page. But if you say to her, "Hey, what's going on here?" "Oh, that's a flower and the guy's picking the flower and the wind is blowing really hard." And she has a hundred different examples of what it is on the page that's happening, that's still writing. Can she write? No. Can that kid read? No, but they can still, if they're understanding, "Oh, that character is scary, this thing happened." That transformation is going to happen. "I predict that this is going to..." What is going to happen next in the story? What do you think? And when the kid predicts what's going to happen, they're beginning to figure out how to read. They're beginning to figure out how to read with meaning. So, I love that. Starting with the book and then putting the book down.
What do you think happens next? You tell me what's going to happen next. Even my own two kids now, because I do so much writing, all different kinds of writing. We'll be reading together and I'll stop, I'll put the book down. I'm like, "You know what, if I were the writer and I had to solve this problem, this is how I would solve it." My daughter's reading a book that she's read now 15 times and she wants me to read it out loud with her. And I'm like, "You know what? I think the dragon falls in love with this dragon. Don't tell me. Is that what happens?" She goes, "I'm not going to tell you, dad." And sometimes we turn the page and the dragons fall in love and sometimes you turn the page and they have a fight or whatever, and it's a real fun activity for me. Really what I want to say is bless those teachers working with these kids. It's hard. It's hard, hard, hard. And then someday it's going to happen.
And sometimes you're that teacher where nothing happens, all year long nothing happens. But next year the teacher's going to be like, "Oh my gosh, this kid came to me with this ability to do this." And sometimes we're that person where it's like, "You know what? We're just going to fight this battle all year long." And then if I think back, all the teachers, I wish I could thank all of them. I probably should. Some of them were so instrumental and they didn't even know it. And without that teacher, this process wouldn't have happened. So, I don't know. The short answer is I don't really know. I just know what I see. And I feel like that kids hearing the stories get some, one of the things I love to do is start a story and stop it and say, "If you want to find out what happens next, go get the book in the library." And the kid's rush in the library for that book. So, there's a long answer to a short question.
Yes, there's a lot more involved. Most definitely. And I agree it does begin with the oral. As you said before, speaking to kids, kids long before they learn to read and write. Reading, talking, writing is the heart of true literacy. That's a quote I use quite often. Doing all of that and bringing in storytelling brings such joy in practice. Oral communication is the key. All right, one more question for you. In a tech world where kids are face down in the phone, what makes the simple art of storytelling a useful tool for literacy learning and improvement?
So interesting and so difficult. I'm not a Luddite. We get to do what we're doing. You and I, Pam, in two different states across the time, and this goes out into a podcast and technology is amazing, and I did do some research about this. The Office of Educational Technology says technology is super effective for learning for kids and especially when it's side by side with your parents or with your teachers, not, "Here's the iPad kid, I got to make dinner." We're going to look at this thing together. So, I'm definitely not a Luddite. And for sure Zoom saved us all in the pandemic, but I'm heavily influenced by a number of people here. One is a professor named Cal Newport out of Georgetown University. He's done a lot of work on just brain focus, and it's really hard to focus on something hard to do.
It is really hard to read a difficult book. It is really hard for me to write a middle-grade fiction novel for sixth-graders. It is really hard for me to solve this math proof in eighth grade with my son. And that demands focus and the digital technology that we have is the opposite. It is constant swiping and zooming in and clicking and more and more and quicker and quicker. I was with all my son's eighth-graders, we all went on a bowling party. And half of them had their phones in the car and they're just swiping. I don't even know if they're seeing anything. I don't know how they do it. And this is interesting, this just happened over the weekend. The bowling alley we went to was sold out. We couldn't go. And I pulled the car over and I turned to the three of them in the back and I said, "Hey, once upon a time, there was three eighth-graders and an old dad who wanted to go bowling." And their phones went down and their faces went up.
And I made up this story about us going through the woods and having problems with bears and wolves and tigers. And then basically I said, "And we're going to go to a different bowling alley." And then they all laughed and it's sort of like it, we don't believe that it's going to work until we do it and then it works. And part of me is like, don't give up. These 11th- and 12th-graders, they're slipping their phones into everything. They're slipping into the textbook they got, some of them can text in their pockets. You know what I mean? And so my wife just has a very simple look, I'm not saying don't have cell phones. She's just in the threshold of the door to the threshold out of the classroom. No cell phones. Let's just respect each other in that way. I feel like it's too distracting.
This technology is too amazing. When I was a kid, well, first of all, we didn't have it, but second of all, the video games that we did have when we did have it, were boring. You got bored after five minutes. "All right. I played this pong game where the glowing dot is going across the screen. Let's go outside and play." Nowadays, these games are, they're so amazing and back to the research, they're not tapping into the brain activity that makes their brains grow. Look, we need to disengage. I need to binge a show with my wife on the weekends. I need to listen to something silly. I need to play a great, awesome video game with my son but not all the time. In our family, we try to do screen-free car rides and we just start telling stories or we listen to old music.
At our table for sure, there's no screens at the table. We're going to talk at the dinner table. This is from Cal Newport at Georgetown: "If you're trying to do an activity while looking at a device, your brain is dumber." I think he says it better than that, but we lose some number of IQ points, 10 or 15 IQ points, if you're looking at a phone when you're trying to do something else. When I'm a writer, I need all of my little bit of IQ to get this writing done. When I'm reading something difficult, I need my whole brain to do it. And so there's that research there as well. I feel like it's just that, it goes back to just the attention being paid. And when I think about all those family members, those telling stories, I make a joke about them being better storytellers, but they also were amazing listeners and I had someone to listen to me.
Your phone is not listening to you. Your phone is trying to gather your attention and sell it to other people to gather more attention from you. So, while it's a losing battle in some ways, it's also a battle that has great, great benefit. Your kids' brains are better at the bowling alley when you tell them a silly story about why there are tigers and bears protecting the bowling alley than it is from them swiping some awesome YouTube video and sharing it with their friends. So, that's where I'm at now with it. It's a little sad, I think, but I'm also just realizing I'm just an old man complaining about what the new, and I guess...I did read an article about the parents complaining about newspapers when newspapers first came out 150 years ago.
"These kids wrapped up in these papers just not paying attention to each other." My son and I like to joke about what's this going to be 20 years from now? When is he going to complain? "When I was a kid, all I had was virtual reality goggles. We could only submerse our..." So, it'll be interesting to see what that is.
I'm hearing everything you say, but there definitely is a balance when you think about brain focus and distraction, right? Reduce the distraction and build the brain focus. Hey, pull in some storytelling to help make it happen, right?
Thank you for joining us today, Antonio. It's been a pleasure speaking with you. Please tell our listeners how they can learn more about you, how they can follow you on social media.
You're so sweet to ask. The easiest way is my website is antoniosacre.com. And there are links there to, I'm also, Instagram is my social media of choice and it's my name Antonio Sacre on Instagram. I have a lot of videos that are for free on my YouTube channel that many teachers use in the classroom. Many of my books are available in your local library, on Amazon, and I love to support teachers in any way. You can reach me directly from my website if you have any specific questions. And I'm on Spotify, I'm on iTunes. A lot of my storytelling albums are on those spots and those are, you can listen to them. And a lot of teachers, it's funny, I'm pleased when they do this. They play my stories in the morning as the kids are going to school. I would rather the teachers tell their own stories, but if they want to use my stories because they got other stuff to do, then that's something they can do easily by audio stuff that's out there.
Thank you so much. This is Pam Austin bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
This has been an EDVIEW360 podcast. For additional thought-provoking discussions, sign up for our blog, webinar, and podcast series at voyagersopris.com/edview360. If you enjoyed the show, we'd love a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts and to help other people like you find our show. Thank you.